My sister told a tale of standing in line at a pharmacy counter behind a woman with a head of gray hair and age lines etched into her face. When the pharmacist asked for the woman’s name my sister placed it immediately. They had gone to school together.
“I didn’t even recognize her. She looked so old,” my sister confided. “Made me wonder if I look like that.”
Now this bit of gossip genuinely scared the pants off me, which I can assure everyone is not a sight for the faint of heart. This sister is only two years older than me, and she described her former classmate as almost mummy-like – wrinkled, and with an older person’s shrunken body. When I heard that I gasped out loud, because our own mother’s body has shrunk like that. When we were kids she towered over us. These days she could fit in a teacup.
The news of the Mummy Lady was a jolt to my system, because my sister and I don’t consider ourselves that old. Sure, we and our other siblings are probably on the far end of middle age. But no one uses a cane, we all still have our teeth, and I have it on good authority that some of us can still use a workout machine for nearly 10 minutes without our lungs exploding.
After our chat I catch myself lingering in front of a mirror, something I don’t normally do because, let’s face it, devastatingly good looking people do that and I’m not exactly posing for GQ Magazine. I usually check my reflection only for the purpose of confirming there’s nothing odd stuck in my teeth or my goatee, because I have been amazed in the past by what I’ve found in each. And no, it’s none of your business, although if you’re really curious you can catch me after I’ve had a few cocktails, in which case I’ll happily confess things about myself that will make your hair curl.
Anyway, I have my nose pressed to the glass, examining the dark pouches under my eyes and the hair growing out of my ears, things that happen after you turn 30 and you have a mortgage and an electric bill just slightly lower than the national debt, and a job that isn’t exactly what you had in mind when you were eighteen and planning to be the next billionaire.
My brown-eyed girl happens upon me peering at myself, bouncing my slight double chin up and down with one hand while rubbing the other anxiously over my male pattern baldness and mumbling about Botox.
“Okay, what set you off this time?” she asks. She claims I worry too much about aging, which is a big, fat lie if you ask me, although no one ever does. They know once I get to talking I can go for hours without ever making my point, and they had planned an evening of sipping a nice Chardonnay and watching the neighbors fight, not listening to me deny that I have old people’s ear hair.
I tell my wife my sister’s story, and ask her if she’s noticed me shrinking, which is a real stitch because it’s obvious I’ve actually been expanding faster than the universe did after the Big Bang. She takes my hand and assures me for the umpteenth time that I can easily pass for years younger, that the gray hair in my beard looks very distinguished, and that if she has to hear about it one more time she’ll bang her head against the wall in total frustration.
I have it on good authority that my behavior often leads her to do that, which is why I bought her a helmet for her birthday.
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